Hope, it´s essential to life. Without it we simply exist or worst yet, we cease to exist altogether.
King Solomon believed that hope deferred would make the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). Putting off, setting aside, or suspending hope is like a degenerative disease that causes us to lose the vital functions necessary for a happy and healthy life.
A simple definition of hope can be having the feeling of expectation and desire for something in the future. It´s not a current reality, but the expectation is that it will be your experience at some future point in time.
So many of us begin the new year with hope that things will be better. Different, but in a good way. That this will be the year when everything comes together. All the pieces will just fall into place and everything we´ve ever wanted will become a reality. We will get to live our best life … this year!
We put a lot of energy into the first few weeks of the new year only to find ourselves losing traction as the weeks become months and there is no apparent change. At least not the change that we were “hoping” for.
After a few months, the vision of that best life is out of focus. We cant see it like we did that first week in January. Our thoughts become negative, our words are less affirming, and our actions no longer represent those of the change we desire.
So how do we change this? What can we do differently?
Let´s start with a lesson from history:
Admiral James Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for over seven years. He observed that the optimists in the prison camp who set specific time frames for their release tended to be the one´s that didn´t make it out. The time frames would come and go with no change in their situations. They would lose hope and eventually give up all together.
On the other hand, Stockdale and others, managed to maintain an unwavering belief in their release, but the significant difference was the lack of a time frame in which it would occur. They engaged in a combination of optimism and realism that anchored their hope in a determined future event without ascribing a specific time, all the while very much aware of their present condition.
This has come to be known as the Stockdale Paradox – a concept that describes the value of living faithfully in the space between optimism and realism. The paradox also suggests that an individual needs to be actively working towards making the situation better.
Meaning that hope is not passive. It´s actively engaged in the pursuit of its desire and expectation.
Victor Frankl is best known for his work with logotherapy. His book “Man´s Search for Meaning,” describes what he experienced and learned during his time in the concentration camps of WWII. The following is taken from Frankl´s book and is an observation made by the chief doctor of the concentration camp Frankl was in at that time:
“The death rate in the week between Christmas and New Year´s 1945, increased in camp beyond all previous experience. In his (chief doctor) opinion, the explanation for this increase did not lie in harder working conditions, or the deterioration of food supplies or a change of weather or new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naïve that they would be home by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news, the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them. This had a dangerous influence on their powers of resistance and a great number of them died.”
Both Frankl and Stockdale share an experience with hope. Each drawing a similar conclusion. Something that was voiced through King Solomon millennia before - the debilitating and degenerative effect associated with a loss of hope.
But they also shared the importance of keeping hope alive, despite the conditions.
I heard this statement a few years ago and it stuck with me. “I will win … not immediately, but definitely!”
This was the attitude that got Stockdale, Frankl, and others through their horrific experiences. This is the answer to the questions posed above. It´s a definition of hope that we need to grasp. It´s understanding that time is irrelevant and the unwaivering belief that it will happen is critical.
If we focus on the journey and who we are becoming in the process, the “when” is no longer important. I will win. Maybe not today, or tomorrow. It may take a year or two, maybe even longer. In the interim, I will be actively engaged in my personal progress. Growing, learning, transforming. I will express gratitude for where I am in the journey, and in the end, I will allow myself to be surprised by the outcome – by the “suddenly" moments in life (that´s a topic for another day).
The rest of King Solomons thought is that when the desire comes, when it becomes a present reality, it is life giving and life sustaining. It is a tree of life.
May your hope be a strong anchor to your soul in 2024.
Here´s to discovering a happier healthier you!